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How To... 6 ways to make knitting more comfortable on LoveKnitting

Published on April 21st, 2016 | by Elizabeth Bagwell

35 comments

Six tips for comfortable knitting

You don’t have to have a named condition, such as arthritis or RSI, for prolonged knitting sessions to become uncomfortable. If knitting is causing any pain, it’s important to examine the problem immediately, to prevent it getting worse.

Here, expert knitter Elizabeth Bagwell highlights six potential problems, and ways to overcome them to make knitting more comfortable.

FREE tutorial: 6 ways to make knitting more comfortable on the LoveKnitting blog

Knitting has been successfully used to increase flexibility and mobility in arthritic hands, and to help people manage chronic pain conditions as well as depression and anxiety. If you’re interested in using knitting to help you cope with an ongoing condition, talk to your GP.

You can also visit Stitchlinks, an online forum for people who use knitting, crochet and other crafts to help manage chronic physical and mental conditions, and share advice and support.

Better posture

In most cases, discomfort while knitting comes from either an awkward position or overtaxing muscles and joints. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably, and check on your position as you knit.

Many people, when feeling stressed, unconsciously hunch or crouch over their work. If you’re a new knitter, working on a tricky piece or to deadline, you may be more tense than usual.

Pro tip: Having a sip of water (or tea, or coffee) at the end of each row can remind you to relax and uncurl.

6 ways to make knitting more comfortable: unwind with a cup of tea (and a free mug cozy knitting pattern) on LoveKnittingAbove: free watermelon mug cozy knitting pattern – click this image to download the pattern

Stretch out your hands and arms

This may be caused by the way you sit, but is often caused by the way you tension your yarn. In some cases, it’s simply that you’re using muscles in new ways, and they have to build up strength, but you may also be putting pressure on your hands with the yarn and needles.

Pro tip: Do the “tennis stretch” to relieve stress and tension in your hands and arms before and after each knitting session.

6 ways to make knitting more comfortable: do the tennis stretch and learn more with LoveKnittingAbove: the “tennis stretch”

Lighter needles 

Working larger projects on straight needles can get really heavy, causing stress to hands and arms. It’s a particular issue if you have existing hand or joint problems.

Many knitters switch to small items, but it’s not the only solution. Switching to circular needles, even when you’re knitting back and forth, can make a big difference. The cable lets the project rest in your lap, so you don’t have to support its full weight.

Pro tip: Use a circular needle with a long cable, 60cm or more, to let the project spread out in your lap. You can knit back and forth on it as though you were using straight needles.

6 ways to make knitting more comfortable: use circular needles and learn more on LoveKnittingAbove: click this image to view all circular needles 

Use wood or bamboo needles

Traditional metal needles can feel cold or hard in the hands, and lead to stiffness or pain, particularly for people with arthritis. Modern needles come in a wide variety of materials, so it’s easy to find warmer materials.

Wooden needles are a popular choice, as they feel soft and warm, as do bamboo needles.

Pro tip: Remember to check your tension when changing needles as your grip may change and your tension with it.

6 ways to make knitting more comfortable" use bamboo or wood needles and learn more with LoveKnittingAbove: KnitPro Symfonie wood needles

Use innovative square needles

Again, wooden needles can be easier to hold and grip and square needles are often even easier –  believe it or not, square needles form perfectly smooth, round stitches, just as round needles do, and some knitters find that they get a more even tension using square needles! The Cubics range of needles from KnitPro are square shaped and tested by knitters who suffer from arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, and have been found to make knitting more comfortable in some cases.

Pro tip: if you are worried about expense, ask your knitting friends for their recommendations and they may loan you a pair of their favourite pins.

6 ways to make knitting more comfortable: use KnitPro Cubics needles with LoveKnittingAbove: KnitPro Cubics 60cm circular needle

Stop squinting

While many people can knit in the dark, it’s really hard to read a chart or pattern in dim light. Squinting at a pattern can lead to sitting hunched over, causing pain in the back, shoulders or neck. It can also lead to eye strain.

If you regularly knit in a particular place at home, set up a good light source. Desk lamps can be a good choice, as you can angle the neck to suit – and don’t be too proud to wear your glasses if you need to.

Pro tip: Look out for daylight lamps, as they provide a lovely natural light. Lights with magnifiers attached also exist, which are ideal for fine work. (And wear those glasses!)

6 ways to make knitting more comfortable: wear your glasses! Read more on LoveKnitting

What do you do to make knitting more comfortable? Tell us in the comments!

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About the Author

Elizabeth is a keen knitter, occasional designer, enthusiastic traveler and a professional freelance writer. She spent three years working for British knitting magazine, Simply Knitting, and has also written for The Knitter and other craft titles. She blogs at: www.elizabethbagwell.me.uk


Last updated: June 19th, 2016.

35 Responses to Six tips for comfortable knitting

  1. cheryl says:

    I hada stroke 9 years ago , which paralayzed my left hand /arm , I AM LOOKING FO A KNITTING AID THAT COULD ENABLE ME TOKNIT AGAIN, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE MY 7YEAR OLD GRANDAUGHTER HAS ASKED ME TO TEACH HER TO KNIT, AND I said I WOULDSO DONT WANT TO DISAPOINT HER , ALSO I would like to take upknitting again as a hobby any suggestions would be verygratefully received

    • Catherine A. McClarey says:

      Cheryl, you might want to try Knooking (done with a crochet hook with a lifeline attached; do a search on Ravelry for more details and vendors in your country which might sell the Knook), which produces a knitted look with just 1 implement. Tunisian crochet (made with a very long crochet hook, which holds the stitches part of the time) also produces items with a knitted look. You might also investigate “alternative knitting methods,” of which there seem to be so many that at least 1 might work for you, even with your limited mobility.

    • Hi Cheryl,

      I’ve known a few people who have knit with only one hand. A common way is to tuck one needle under your arm (if possible) or to otherwise fix into place, then do all the work with the other hand. AbleData suggests several assistive tools that might help: http://www.abledata.com/abledata.cfm?pageid=19327&ksectionid=19327&top=15745

      If you knit ‘English’ style, then you would probably do most of the work with your right hand anyway, so if you can stop the other needle moving, it might work! This video shows an example, using a block of foam attached to a belt (home made, I understand, and not a product for sale) http://youtu.be/5Jnp9eP1bkE

      Best of luck, and do let us know how you get on.

      Elizabeth

    • Kalli says:

      I have limited use of my right arm and find I can do most of the work with my left hand while supporting the work on my lap or the ground if i am lying down. You can buy knitting aids that will hold your other needle to help (if you search ‘one handed knitting’ or ‘knitting aid’ you can find one to buy locally), such as the Knitting Aid, a mini loom (also called French loom), or a knitting belt.

    • Alison Orr says:

      Thanks so much for this information. I’ve developed arthritis in my thumb joints and it’s worst in my left hand. Any kind of crafting that involves grasping with the left hand (I’m right handed) is painful. I’m going to research these tips above as I’m bereft at no longer being able to knit!

    • Nat says:

      On YouTube, there are tutorials for one-handed knitting. Those might be helpful. Also, loom knitting might be an option for you.

  2. Sarah Pellatt says:

    I would think possibly using Bamboo Circular needles would be easier to try and use~

  3. Sandra Ballou says:

    It’s good that you even want to continue knitting. But I understand, my GreatGrand Daughter asked me to make her something….who can say no to the babies?… So I did, hat with matching shrugg… Since Oct. 2012, I’ve had 2 lumbar surgeries.. I’m still having problems with those surgeries. don’t think this is going away. I also have carpal tunnel syndrome, ( surgery on both hands). They say I’m PTSD …. Yes depression, knitting has calmed me to a point of temporary satis…haven’t got the faction yet ….smile ,but I’m working on it…I have 4 gg-kids. So Lady, just keep on keeping on…just think of the BABIES!

  4. Jodi Clausen says:

    I have severe chronic pain that I deal with every day. I recently started knitting to help with stress, pain, etc. I also love to create things. I have knit almost every day since learning, and am suffering some pretty bad pain…..but I am in pain no matter what I do, and I would rather be knitting. I will look at your suggestions here ( I am sure some will help 🙂 )and I thank you for thinking of us with this issue.

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  6. Kay says:

    Don’t foget that there areany different stretching exercises that willlnhelp in alleviating tired and hurting muscles. Making note to stop and stretch every 15 minutes orbso of knitting time does wonders.

  7. Helen says:

    This is wonderful, thank you so much. I have recently taken up knitting again after a long gap and had forgotten how much I enjoy it – but hadn’t realised how stiff I would feel.

  8. jackie Crane says:

    I always enlarge my patterns it makes them so much easier to look at and you can just glimpse them instead of really having to study them.

  9. Shirley says:

    I have found some lovely short children’s knitting needles, great for all baby knitting and so light to use. Arthritis is an issue for me but knitting is such good therapy so I feel it makes my fingers feel better.

  10. elaine says:

    If I’m on the couch, I put pillows under my elbows and ssometimes a pillow or blanket in my lap. It helps with my posture and pinched nerve.

  11. sian says:

    I have been diagnosed with ‘golfers elbow’ since I took up knitting have aches nd pain in joints and muscles. Thought about giving it up but thanks to the You-tube continental method I may not have to give it up and just need to change from the English way to the Continental. Thanks for all the advice.

  12. Brigid de Jong says:

    I have arthritis in my left thumb, and it’s very painful. I’ve already had to give up crochet, but I can knit if I’m careful. I was taught how to tape it by a physical therapist, and that has helped immensely, but lately I’ve been teaching myself to knit Portuguese style, and this seems to be an excellent solution. The tension on the yarn is kept not with the hand, but by pulling the strand from around your neck (or from a hook you can attach to your collar). As I get better at it I find that my left thumb is used mostly to flick the yarn around the needle.

  13. Kathleen Libbey says:

    i knit every day on circular needles (even flat projects) and found that if i do some projects on short needles and some on longer needles that i can reduce hand fatigue. I also use wood and metal needles for a different hand feel.

    I also try to have at least two projects going – one on smaller needles or yarn and one on larger needles or yarn. So i have a project now on fingering yarn with size 5 long wooden needles and the other project is on short metal needles. This lets me switch back and forth when i need a break.

  14. Dee Thompson says:

    My fav needles are hexagonal and can be found at indianlakeartisans.com. They are rather expensibe ,but imo worth every penny. I bought apair or two every month until I’d acquired all sizes. I have only two circs so I need to order more sizes of those. They are wooden and come in your choice of 3 different types of wood. I have walnut. They are made in the US and I think they are works of art as well! Each size has a different copper top of thinhs found in nature like fish, cabins, owls, feathers, turtles, arrowheads, etc. Check them out. They are a pleasure to knit with! Tell them Dee sent you! Thanks!

  15. Dee Thompson says:

    Nope! Ha ha! Never mind! Was right to begin with. Indian shouldn’t be capitalized. indianlakeartisans.com

  16. Sandra says:

    I’m 61 have knitted all my life but seem to
    Have now got arthritis in my left thumb joint and find it painful to knit – I’m gutted – any suggestions for easier knitting or are my knitting days over ????

    • Kalli says:

      You could try using a loom or aid, although depending on how you knit, you might be able to adjust how you hold your left needle so that you’re not stressing your thumb – maybe hold the left needle between your fingers or even drop it every now and then. You could also try resting your work on your lap and just using the right needle.

  17. KristaX says:

    My neck is super painful and tight during and after knitting,which leads to bad headaches.
    I am trying to do neck stretches, being aware of any hunching and heat on my neck in bed, but it is still really bad.

  18. amy says:

    I have fibromyalgia and have just found out I’ve got really bad wear in tear in my neck which makes it knitting very painful,I had started knitting a blanket for my son but couldn’t finish it as was in to much pain,I didn’t know u could use circular needles for doin flat work,I may try this to help because the blanket is getting quite heavy to work with,I do struggle but I do love knitting to relax.

    • Kalli says:

      You could try doing squares and sewing/crocheting them together rather than doing the whole thing at once – that way you only have a small bit on the needles at a time and it’s not so heavy. You can even add squares as a border on what you have now, rather than starting again.

  19. L says:

    Having more than one project going on different size needles is good to vary tension on the way you hold the needles. For instance small gauge needles such as for socks or lace and a project with worsted weight yarn and appropriate size needles; this will give your hands, fingers a breather.

  20. Rumplestiltskein says:

    2 things:
    1. to avoid repetitive strain, vary your style of knitting between “british” (yarn thrown with right index finger) and “continental” (yarn controlled by left hand,right hand action more like crochet). If knitting fairisle, use one style for each colour.
    2. If you like to read whilst knitting, prop the book or magazine at the right angle to avoid a crick in the neck (and view it through the right section of varifocal galsses). A “book chair” is brilliant for this.

  21. Diane Babbage says:

    I find if I support my arms on pillows or sit up to a table to knit, it helps my posture. I also just try to do a little at a time, like when I stop for a cup of coffee during the day. That way my hands and neck don’t get too tired.

  22. Jan O'Hare says:

    I’m a busy crocheter. I recently had trouble with my left ‘pointer’ finger; called trigger finger. The finger locked in bent position, clicked when straightened, some swelling and pain. I went to a hand/arm doctor and he recommended a cortisone shot in the finger. Painful shot, but REALLY worked – so far. Six weeks later and the finger looks and works like normal. I’m so pleased; but he cautioned that I should have no more than 3 shots – – should it return – – -and then may need to have surgery on the tendon. So I will slow my crocheting and use all of your aides to keep it from happening again! Thanks so much!!

    • delilah says:

      Dear Jan
      I had this problem in my ring and little fingers of my right hand. Had the cortisone injections, ouch, and then offered surgery. I refused as I have a friend who had this done on both hands, ring and little fingers at the same time, attempting to save sick time off from work. Now they are permanently curled into the palm and unusable.
      Also know a couple of others this has happened to. The tendons are cut and may not heal as they should.

      At the same time as the injections, I came up with my own device.

      I massage fingers regularly, push them against a table top giving a good stretch at the hand joint – look up hand yoga – and at night I have made a splint from water pipe covering by cutting it in half lengthways. I tape this to my fingers, placing underside of fingers in the curved grove. I found that my fingers were worse, stiff, painful and most curled in the mornings and took a lot of effort to ease straight again.

      I also wear gloves to keep them warm, fingerless in the house to keep on knitting and crocheting!!! 🙂 Make them in a smooth or silky 4 ply or dk yarn then they don’t get in the way like thicker yarn will. This also helps with the arthritis and diabetic joint pains I have.

      For other pain issues, I support my wrists and elbows and shoulders with cushions under my forearms, and rest my head against a cushion to take the strain from my neck and shoulders. I also find a strain can be made on hips so I prop my feet up with a cushion under my knees.
      I have a lot of cushioning!! lol.

      One thing I won’t do is stop, as the less you move around, the less mobile you become. And moving just one joint, a thumb or finger, gets the synovial fluid moving round.

      Del

  23. Cheryl Anderson says:

    I am now 67 years old and have been knitting since I was 8 years old. My children used to complain when they went to school because they had knitted jumpers and cardigans while others had ‘lovely bought ones!’. My mother was also a beautiful knitter and used to knit herself 2 garments while watching Wimbledon!
    When I started knitting as an adult, I would knit for a few minutes and then would have to stop because I kept getting cramp in my right hand. I don’t remember why I did it but I screwed up a tissue and held that in my right hand while I was knitting – and it worked! No more cramp. Now I automatically grasp a tissue while knitting. I have arthritis in both hands and find they are very stiff after knitting and sometimes a bit painful, but I can put up with this as long as I can continue with most of my hobbies. I intend to keep going as long as I can. At the moment I am using up odd balls of wool and making squares – some crotchet, some different knitting stitches – and will make them into a blanket to cover me when I have my ‘afternoon nap’ which is becoming more necessary these days!!

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